Lisa Mason: My journey with Zoey
February 9, 2012
She walks stiffly now, each step disconnected. Her movement is concentrate and cautious, as if she no longer trusts her balance and is uncertain about where her feet will land.
At 14, my Zoey is moving into unknown territory, taking me with her on her aging journey. While her world is filled with slowed, deliberate movements and hindered by the pains of growing old, mine has become one of improving patience, tolerance and acknowledgment of her changes — and forgiveness for her not being the dog of my memories.
What is it like to live with a 14-year-old dog, one that you've raised since she was a puppy? For me, it's been a time of re-learning, of allowing those memories of her as a younger dog to be replaced with the joy of watching and involving her each day in my life as she is today.
We still train, but I find I need to remember how it was teaching her as a puppy, conquering my feeling of frustration when she seems not to understand or do something she has done effortlessly all her life. And, because her hearing is weak, I've learned to be closer, using hand signals to communicate.
Zoey's tail, once a beacon of nonstop waving and circling, now is an indicator of how she's feeling physically. I note its stiffness or lack of swing as a message that she perhaps needs more Tramadol today. Because of her weakened rear legs, I've become Zoey's security going up and down stairs, gently guiding and supporting her as we go. Her tender body jumps if you startle her or if your touch is too strong, so my hands are lighter, softer and slower. Yet, despite all this, she still smiles, eyes fogged but sparkling, doing half-leaps when I get home. And there are those wonderful moments when, forgetting her aches and pains, she breaks into a bobbing run.
We, the lucky owners of older dogs, must embrace letting go of the past and replace it with the understanding that we've been given yet another gift — the chance to learn even more from our senior dogs.
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Here are my promises to Zoey:
- Health: yearly wellness exams, keeping me aware and on top of medical and/or emotional issues
- Mind: daily mental stimulations — brief training sessions, interactive puzzles or games like "find it"
- Sensory stimulation: daily walks or car rides with the windows down, allowing her the sights and smells of the world as we drive through
- Nutrition: becoming aware of and understanding of her changing needs, providing healthy, well-rounded, interesting meals
So, for those of you who have or eventually will have an older dog, honor their aging with patience and respect, continually working to understand their aging process. An old dog can teach you new tricks.
Lisa Mason is an experienced dog training instructor with the Total Teamwork Training group. Her specialties include new puppy owner education and management.